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Quarterbacks and the NFL

I'm going to take the opposite side of the argument regarding the Ben Volin-Mike Florio spat over Tim Tebow's throwing motion.

I generally agree with Volin, but then the two of us have followed the Florida program a lot closer than Florio has. Nearly everything that Tebow is doing now with his fundamentals is something he did last year with Scot Loeffler, from the footwork to the throwing motion. When he says now that he hasn't had this kind of fundamentals coaching before, either he's saying what he needs to say to mollify scouts or he, John Brantley, and Loeffler were all lying about what went on in practice last March. This is old ground, and the fact that he has to tread it again is not entirely the fault of the coaching staff. You can lead a horse to water...

Florio's perspective is not surprising for someone who spends nearly all of his time on the NFL beat. He strikes me as the kind of person that I refer to as an NFL supremacist: someone who thinks college football exists mainly to be a farm system for the pro level. The fact of the matter is that college football is its own thing, and the coaches there don't get paid based on the action on Sundays. Just look at the top guys in quarterback rating in the 2009 NFL season:

  1. Drew Brees: played in a spread offense at Purdue under Joe Tiller, who recently retired after a successful career by Purdue's standards but who had some losing seasons.
  2. Brett Favre: came to Southern Miss under Curley Hallman, who would leave to become the worst coach in LSU history. Finished under Jeff Bower, who was good by USM standards but who was forced out after 2007.
  3. Phillip Rivers: played at NC State under Chuck Amato, who was later fired for losing too many games after Rivers left.
  4. Aaron Rodgers: played at Cal under Jeff Tedford, who's done well but hasn't really broken through and is known as a QB guru for developing NFL Hall of Famers Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, and Kyle Boller.
  5. Ben Roethlisberger: played at Miami (OH) under Terry Hoeppner, who tragically died from brain cancer at Indiana.
  6. Peyton Manning: played under Phil Fulmer at Tennessee, who was recently pushed out for not winning enough. Studied under David Cutcliffe, who was fired as head coach by Ole Miss.
  7. Matt Schaub: played at Virginia under Al Groh, who was recently fired for not winning enough games.
  8. Tony Romo: played at Eastern Illinois and was missed by all of Division I-A.
  9. Tom Brady: played at Michigan under Lloyd Carr, who retired at the end of 2007 amid fan unhappiness for not beating Ohio State enough.
  10. Kurt Warner: played at Northern Iowa and was missed by all of Division I-A.

Rodgers played under a supposed quarterbacks guru who has topped out at the Holiday Bowl, and Manning and Brady played under coaches with a national title but who fell off when the rest of their conferences caught up and they slowed down. That's the best the list has to offer. As it turns out, you can be an NFL starting quarterback even if you have a stooge for a coach like Rivers with Amato or Josh Freeman with Ron Prince

If you go down the rest of the list of the NFL's starting QBs, you find it's a bunch of guys who played for coaches who were later fired (Donovan McNabb, Eli Manning, Jason Campbell, Brady Quinn, etc.) or who were obscurities in college (Joe Flacco, David Garrard, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jake Delhomme, etc.).

The only big time college coaches who have entries on the list are Pete Carroll with Carson Palmer and Matt Cassell, Mack Brown with Vince Young, Urban Meyer with Alex Smith, Mark Richt with Matthew Stafford, and Nick Saban/Les Miles with JaMarcus Russell. Palmer turned out great, and Cassell looked good for that year in New England. Young's career has been uneven to say the least, Smith is fortunate to even get another chance this year, and Russell is on his way to eating himself out of the league. It's too early to judge Stafford.

Clearly, creating franchise NFL quarterbacks is not a requirement to being a successful college coach. Bobby Bowden never did. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe Joe Paterno ever did unless you count Kerry Collins. Meyer, Brown, Saban, Bob Stoops, Steve Spurrier, and Jim Tressel haven't yet, and that hasn't prevented them from becoming legends. That's why it's stupid to say that if Tebow becomes a bust like Smith was, then top quarterback recruits will shy away from playing at Florida.

I get the feeling that this isn't really about Urban Meyer's, or more accurately Dan Mullen's, ability to groom an NFL quarterback. Guys go into the league every year with substandard mechanics. I think a lot of this is yet another repudiation of Meyer's spread option offense, something that NFL supremacist types have been panning for years. I don't know Florio's position on it, but I'd be surprised if he liked it. It's also probably them getting Tebow fatigue already, since he's the biggest story of the off season despite not having actually done anything in the league yet.

Colleges pay their coaches for wins at the college level, plain and simple. College coaches have a responsibility to coach their players the right way sure, but that doesn't mean they all have to run pro style offenses and defenses. Georgia Tech probably couldn't be happier with the Paul Johnson era so far, what with the Jackets' ACC title and all, and he runs the antithesis of an NFL offense. Florida pays Meyer to win games, and his first non-transitional recruiting class only became the winningest senior class in SEC history with 48 wins in four seasons.

I'm not here to beg sympathy for Tebow, who probably wanted to make his senior season fun by not focusing on redoing his entire mechanics and just doing what he did the previous season. It sure looked as if that was the case on the field. I'm also not going to try to convince you that Meyer is some kind of coaching god who can crank out perfect quarterbacks. That's certainly not true, and he evidently wasn't terribly concerned when Tebow's reworked mechanics didn't take.

The point is, if Tebow doesn't end up a Pro Bowl quarterback, then it's not all on his college coach. He is responsible for his development too, and he's acting on that responsibility right now by getting tutored. What Florio and the rest of NFL pundits never seem to acknowledge on top of that is that his future NFL coaches have a responsibility to develop him as well, and bad coaching in the NFL can ruin players' careers. No one arrives on that level as a finished product, and not all coaches in that league are beyond reproach. No one bats an eye when they get fired and recycled, after all.

And for goodness' sake, it's not a college coach's responsibility to run a farm team for the pros. It's NCAA football, not the NFDL.